USS Mobile Bay takes its name from the famous Civil War naval battle between Union forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut, and Confederate forces, under Admiral Franklin Buchanan. As "Freedom's Flagship," Mobile Bay proudly carries on the tradition of patriotism and courage displayed by the ships and sailors in the historic battle.
By 1864, Mobile, Alabama, was the last Gulf Coast port of any consequence still remaining in Confederate hands. The only entrance to Mobile Bay was a channel running between Forts Morgan and Gaines, reduced to a width of 150 yards by Confederate mines and obstructions. Such Southern strategy forced Admiral Farragut to place his eighteen-ship force within easy range of Fort Morgan's heavy guns. Embarked in the flagship USS Hartford just outside Mobile Bay, Farragut scrutinized the forts and other bay defenses, sending in small boats by night to chart obstructions and mines.
Admiral Buchanan, the ranking officer of the Confederate Navy, was ordered to Mobile from Hampton Roads, Virginia, following his battle with USS Monitor. He began to frantically work to organize a fleet in hopes of countering the imminent Union attack. The monitor CSS Tennessee had been floated down river to receive armor. Along with the monitor came three small, old wooden gunboats: Morgan, Gaines, and Selma. The group of four Confederate ships was all that stood between the Union Fleet and the port of Mobile.
On the morning of 5 August 1864, the Federal Fleet, led by the monitor Tecumseh, entered the channel. Abreast of Fort Morgan, Tecumseh veered from its course and dashed at Tennessee. Just 100 yards from Tennessee, Tecumseh ran into a mine that exploded and ripped out its bottom. The ship sank almost instantly, its stern rising out of the water so that the propeller was seen turning in the air as it slipped beneath the waves. The battle line broke and ships backed up on one another. With fire from Fort Morgan raining upon them, they tangled in the channel. Then Farragut, lashed in the rigging of the Hartford, "damned the torpedoes" and moved into the bay at full speed.
Tennessee and its three tiny gunboats moved down to meet them, 20 guns against 200, and four ships against seventeen. Morgan, Gaines, and Selma were quickly out-of-action, leaving Tennessee to stand alone against the entire Union Fleet.
Farragut's ships converged upon the great ironclad, firing broadsides and ramming it at full speed with their prows. After two hours, Tennessee was dead in the water, its steering gone and stack shot away, filling the gun-deck with suffocating heat and flames. Only then did the wounded Admiral Buchanan give the order to surrender. Tennessee's colors came down, concluding one of the most important battles in the Civil War.